The MJV and many other conservation organizations are working throughout the monarch breeding range to restore monarch breeding habitat. To inform these conservation efforts, it is important to know how to create seed mixes that are cost effective, yet provide the host plant and nectar resources needed by monarchs. While there are a variety of efforts to monitor prairie restoration effectiveness, these focus on overall biodiversity, presence and absence of species included in the seed mixes, and the presence/pervasiveness of invasive plants. Effectiveness monitoring rarely includes target species density, but to meet targets for addressing the loss of milkweed on the landscape, it is important to know how seeds per acre translate into milkweeds per acre, how various combinations of forbs and grasses translate into the presence of nectar plants across the time that monarchs are present in any given location, and how monarchs use these restorations.
This project will begin in 2016 and involves both a retrospective analysis of past prairie restoration projects, and a robust experimental design that will eventually allow us to tease out important features of restorations that promote excellent monarch habitat. Both analyses take advantage of a partnership with Prairie Restorations, Inc. (PRI), a Minnesota business founded in 1977, and one of the oldest companies in the U.S. that is devoted to designing, planting, and managing restored prairies. This retrospective analysis will allow us to monitor the effectiveness of past restoration projects for which both initial seed mixes and management strategies are known. It has the advantage of requiring no planting or other site preparation, and can thus be completed in a single year at very low cost. Additionally, the project will assess milkweed and nectar plant presence and abundance in on-farm plots planted in summer 2015 as part of an MJV (Tallgrass Prairie Center, Xerces, and UM MonarchLab) partnership funded by the New York Community Trust. However, the PRI and MJV sites are in a variety of locations, contain different soil types, and vary in other conditions likely to be important to nectar and milkweed plant establishment. Thus, the project will work with PRI on large-scale installations this year, varying relevant features of the seed mixes in a robust experimental design that will support better understanding of the mechanisms behind patterns uncovered in the retrospective analysis.
In addition, the University of Minnesota is working with the Field Museum of Chicago to monitor for monarch productivity and habitat in urban spaces. This project uses a Landscape Conservation Design model and will inform where conservation can be applied most effectively in urban landscapes. The U of MN will lead habitat and productivity monitoring in the Minneapolis/St. Paul urban area, which is a pilot city for the larger project the Field Museum is coordinating.
All protocols used in these studies will be aligned with the efforts of the Monarch Conservation Science Partnership.